The Increasing Importance of Auctions

Gerhard Richter Domplatz Mailand 1968

“He explained that there was a large disparity between quality and price in the art market, citing the $31.7 million sale of his own painting Domplatz, Mailand (1968) as an example.
“I found it odd,” he said. “I don’t think it’s so great, although it inspired me to make many other city pictures. When I heard how much it cost at auction, I thought, oh, that is totally overpriced.”
He went on to label the increasing importance of auctions in the art market as “pretty shocking.”
Richter said “When you look at the catalogs which are becoming increasingly terrible you wouldn’t believe what nonsense is being offered at prices that continue to climb upwards. For serious galleries the business is consequently becoming even more difficult.” [Gerhard Richter on the Art Market]

Julian Schnabel Notre Dame 1979

Just four years after his first show, in 1983, a work by Schnabel came to auction. This caused a stir not only because the plate-painting, Notre Dame (1979) doubled its $50,000 high estimate, selling for $93,500; nor because it was significantly more expensive than Schnabel’s primary market prices (which were between $25,000 and $60,000); nor because this was almost ten times the price of work by Schnabel’s peers (which cost around $10,000 at the time); but also because it was so rare for such recent work to come to auction in the first place.
(Also unusual was the role the artist himself had played in the sale. Schnabel had heard that the Soho dealer Annina Nosei planned to auction his plate-painting The Patients and the Doctors (1978), and invoked his right of first refusal, trading it for Notre Dame.)
Over the next couple of years, demand for Neo-Expressionism grew, prices went up and the art became even bigger and bolder. There was a sense of excess in the air, borne out of the Reagan-era focus on free markets. [Michael Rudokas on Julian Schnabel]

Mark Grotjahn Untitled (colored butterfly white background 6 wings) 2004

“Where artists once had largely monogamous relationships with their dealers and were happy not to have to bother with business details, now many are choosing Mr. Grotjahn’s path, seeking to maximize their international exposure through multiple galleries, and to actively manage their own markets.
“Artists whose work is in great demand are in charge,” said Ann Philbin, director of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, who has been tracking Mr. Grotjahn since the late ’90s. “They can call the shots and Mark figured that out pretty early.”
… While most artists prefer to be far removed from the auction business, Mr. Grotjahn weighs in on how his pieces are displayed and described in auction catalogs, and he tries to have a say in who ends up buying them.
“Ultimately, he’s the decision maker,” said Loic Gouzer, Christie’s co-chairman of postwar and contemporary art in the Americas. “He wears the pants in the relationships he has with his galleries.” [Robin Pogrebin on Mark Grotjahn]

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